Speak Up Focus Issue: Oral Health in Wisconsin
Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Wisconsin's children, which is one reason Speak Up for Kids encourages you, as a community advocate committed to improving overall child health in Wisconsin, to advocate for policies at the state and federal level that will improve access to care for children of all ages and backgrounds.
The term "oral health" refers to not only the teeth and gums (gingiva) and their supporting tissues, but also the hard and soft palate, the mucosal lining of the mouth and throat, the tongue, the lips, the salivary glands, the chewing muscles, and the upper and lower jaws.
Oral health therefore means much more than healthy teeth. It means being free of chronic oral-facial pain conditions, oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers, oral soft tissue lesions, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, and scores of other diseases and disorders.
Why Is Oral Health a Concern?
Children's oral health is an important component of their overall health because without it, children cannot be completely healthy. The most common oral health problem in children is tooth decay, also called dental caries.
During the 2007-08 school year, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services completed "Make Your Smile Count," a statewide oral health survey of Wisconsin's third grade children. Overall, it was found that tooth decay continues to be a major problem for Wisconsin's children:
- 17% of the third grade children screened had a need for early dental care, which means that the child exhibited dental decay without accompanying signs or symptoms
- Nearly 3% of screened children needed urgent dental care because of pain or infection. This means that approximately 2,000 third grade children are in the classroom in pain or with an oral infection-and that's only one grade.
- If this percentage is extrapolated to all kindergarten to sixth grade school children in Wisconsin, about 12,500 children in Wisconsin may need urgent dental care because of pain or infection
What Are Possible Solutions to Improve Oral Health Care?
Although oral health problems are among the most common health issues in Wisconsin, they are also the most preventable. Even more importantly, improving our children's oral health can be achieved without government intervention-all we need is you. Your child can have a healthy mouth right from the start by simply following a few rules:
- Limit the amount and time your child consumes sugary drinks including natural fruit juices and milk
- Dilute sugary drinks with fluoridated water
- Make sure your child is brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing at least one time each day
- Visit your family dentist regularly
What is American Family Children's Hospital Doing to Help?
American Family Children's Hospital believes every child deserves the best possible health care service, regardless of his/her family's financial circumstances. Supporting dental services for uninsured and underserved children in Dane County is essential to raising healthy children with strong self-esteem and self-worth. In our services to schools, our primary goal is to reduce the impact that pain from poor oral health has on a child's ability to do well in school and live a healthy lifestyle.